The state flag with three white stripes and plough on red seems to have lost its relevance in contemporary times. Ministers, especially from the Jammu region, rarely have it on their vehicles, the Ladakh people have already replaced it and commons in the Valley perceive it as a symbol of their enslavement.
People in Jammu believe that the flag breeds separatist tendencies, and like people in Ladakh, have always hated it. Jammu launched an agitation during the Sher-e-Kashmir’s times, demanding ek nishaan (one flag), ek pradhan (one president) and ek vidhaan (one legislature). They have never accepted the state flag.
In 2010, a verbal dual between National Conference and BJP legislators over the evoked much interest. BJP leader Ashok Khajuria denounced the state flag on Republic Day. The National Conference reacted strongly, as did the Awami National Conference (ANC) headed by the Sher-e-Kashmir’s daughter, Khalida Shah. Both said that the people of the state had laid down their lives for the flag. “People of Kashmir identify themselves with the flag,” Khalida said in a statement.
NC leader and MLA Dr Mustafa Kamal lashed out at Khajuria for his remarks. “The flag has been accepted by New Delhi, and Article 370 of the Indian constitution makes a mention of it,” he said. “Nobody becomes an Indian by chanting jana gana mana.Every Indian must have faith in secular principles that form the very foundation of the country.”
He used words like `anti-national elements’ for Khajuria and `anti-Muslim’ for BJP.
In February 2011, the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) adopted a new logo and flag, and abandoned the use of the state flag. The move did not trigger a political storm as Omar Abdullah chose to play it down. On February 28, he said that the LAHDC was as good as a Municipality and had a right to have its flag and logo like Municipalities in Srinagar and Jammu.
But the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) expressed concern, and termed the development as unfortunate. The PDP president, Mahbooba Mufti said that it was an act to dilute the special status of the state. “Any act aimed at diluting our special status will be vehemently opposed,” she said.
Sensing that his casual approach to the development had evoked severe criticism, Omar said that he was watching the developments. “I am watching the developments. A final decision will be taken after ascertaining the facts,” he said.
Three years have passed, and no action has been taken for the brazen violation of the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution. Kashmir watchers perceive it as a compromise on the special status of the state.
The commoner on the street in Kashmir is as indifferent to the development today as he or she was in 2011. But senior National Conference workers seem disturbed over the way the party high command has been handling issues of grave importance. One worker said: “No action was taken against people who desecrated the state flag on Republic Day at Jammu. It seems that the leadership is scared of upholding the honour of the flag that symbolises Kashmir’s resistance against tyranny.”
They do not agree with the Chief Minister’s justification of equating the LAHDC to a municipality. “Yes, the Srinagar Municipality has its own symbol but it does not take political decisions,” they say.
Commoners in all the three regions of the state remained indifferent amid this drama, much to the much to the disappointment of the NC and the ANC. There is no denying the fact that Kashmiris would, by and large, identify themselves with the flag during the Sher-e-Kashmir’s life. But contemporary Kashmir has a different story to tell.
The priorities in Kashmir have changed. Today Kashmiris perceive the flag as a symbol of their enslavement. Jammu people did not like the flag from day one. They even launched an agitation against it. And as far as the people in Ladakh are concerned, they have already abandoned it.
Whose aspirations does the red flag with three white stripes and plough represent? The National Conference, the Peoples Democratic Party, and the Awami National Conference must do the much-needed explaining.